The National Curriculum states that children should be exposed to a wide range of texts, including those from our own cultural heritage.
So what exactly does that mean? You may have heard these books referred to as ‘heritage texts’ or ‘classics.’ Either way, we aren’t lucky to have a wealth of classic children’s books to choose from. Black Beauty, The Hobbit, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. All of these are perfect to study in and across a Primary or Junior School.
Why should we study them? Well, besides being fantastic stories which have stood the tests of time, they allow pupils to develop their reading stamina, broaden their reading habits and explore archaic vocabulary and sentence structures. Too often these more challenging texts are left until Year 6, or not taught at all. This is a huge wasted opportunity! Many of the books I’ve mentioned can very easily be introduced across the whole school or key stage. I’m going to tell you how I did this in my own school.
What was the plan? The plan was for each year group to revisit the same text every year, looking at different aspects and delving deeper each time. The premises being that be Year 6 they would be familiar with the main characters and plot, meaning they would be able to focus on language and structure rather than working hard to comprehend the story.
Which texts could we use? We started with looking at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland across key stage two, although there no reason why this couldn’t extend down into key stage 1 as well. There are some many beautiful picture book and abridged versions which work well for younger children. These are the titles we chose to use:
Alice in Wonderland (Ladybird Classics)
A simple abridged version of the classic story – perfect to use alongside a more highly-illustrated picture version. It really helped make the core of the story accessible to all our readers.
Alice in Wonderland by Emma Chichester Clark (based on the original by Lewis Carroll) (Harper Collins)
I absolute love this stunning picture version of Carroll’s story. The text has been abridged and brought to life by Emma’s amazing illustrations. We used illustrations from this book to make predictions, write character descriptions and help use understand some of the trickier vocabulary. It also helped us create a story map of key events so we could recap on what had already happened in the story before we came to the next part.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Scholastic)
The complete, unabridged text which we used extracts of with our upper KS2 pupils. At this point, pupils were delving into some of the wonderful wordplay used by Lewis Carroll in his writing. They also looked at his poem ‘Jabberwock’ (which actually features in Alice Through the Looking Glass) – such a brilliant way to investigate portmanteau words (slimy + lithe = slithey) and there are some great readings to compare and contrast on YouTube (look up Benedict Cumberbatch or Brian Blessed for starters!) Selected extracts were also used in whole class guided reading, allowing all pupils to access a challenging text.
Return to Wonderland by Various (Macmillan Children’s Books)
This excellent collection of short stories has been created by some of the UK’s best contemporary children’s authors (Maz Evans, Pamela Butchart, Patrice Lawrence, Piers Torday, Peter Bunzl, Lauren St. John, Amy Wilson, Swapna Haddow, Lisa Thompson & Chris Smith.) Each of them has chosen one of their favourite Wonderland characters as inspiration and written their own adventure for them. A huge range of themes and genres (environmental, humorous, mysterious…), with something for everyone to enjoy. The stories could be enjoyed as standalones but I think pupils will get the most from them if they know something about the original ‘Alice’ first.
I’d also like to highlight this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Story Box, illustrated by Anna Laval, published by Laurence King Publishing. This little box contains 20 large puzzle pieces with contemporary illustrations of the events from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ They are fantastic for pupils to use simply to create their own stories using known characters or to sequence accurately to recreate the original story. Here are some photos of delegates at the recent Reading Rocks South conference having a play!
There are so many other beautiful and engaging versions of ‘Alice’ to enjoy but I’ve only shared the ones which formed the main focus for each year group due to their strong written content. There are also lift-the-flap tea party editions and lots of other wonderful picture books which our pupils loved exploring as part of this unit. Some were shared with parents when they came in for a celebratory end of topic Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
I hope you’ve found this piece useful. I would love to hear from anyone else who has used, or is planning to use, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in their settings.
Update: If you’d like to read about introducing Treasure Island in your setting, click HERE.